Helena Normanton’s ‘Census Resisted’ badge
Dr Gillian Murphy - Curator for Equality, Rights and Citizenship at LSE Library
I’ve always been intrigued that Helena Normanton’s archive contains a ‘Census Resisted’ badge. It was always Helena’s ambition to be a barrister, but women could not formally practice as barristers or solicitors until 1919 and the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. Helena was the first woman to be admitted as a Bar student at an Inn of Court and became a barrister in 1922. Would someone who strove to be a legal pillar of the community be involved in an act of civil disobedience such as a census boycott? In a speech to the Suffragette Fellowship in 1950, Helena reminisced that she had longed to go to prison with her comrades in the fight for the vote but knew this was not an option because, if she did, then she would never have been able to open the legal profession to women, which she regarded as ‘her job in life’.[i] So although Helena’s legal ambition prohibited her from militant action, perhaps the passive resistance of the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) was easier to bear.
Before 1919, Helena worked first as a teacher and then as a governess. She trained at Edge Hill College in Liverpool from 1903. Edge Hill was the first non-denominational teacher training college for women in the UK which also had a healthy interest in the suffrage movement. In 1908 Helena wrote in the Edge Hill Magazine: ‘To all Edge Hill suffragists I give this advice – it takes no moral courage whatever to walk in procession!’[ii] Liverpool Training College, another teacher training college in Liverpool, also had suffrage links: Ethel Snowden and Mary Gawthorpe trained there and later became suffrage activists.[iii] Indeed Ethel kept in contact with Helena sending postcards with Christmas wishes (see images of postcard back and front).
Helena initially took up a teaching post in Liverpool and then moved to London to teach at Central Schools in Acton from 1907 until 1913. Helena’s arrival in London coincided with the emergence of the WFL in 1907. There is no evidence that Helena was involved with this group until 11 March 1911 when she is recorded in The Vote donating 4 shillings to the ‘National Fund’. The month before, the Political and Militant Department of the WFL had set up a subscription list for the Census Protest Scheme, asking for any donations from members or sympathisers towards the cost of the census boycott. There is no evidence that Helena was a WFL member during this period but there was a WFL branch in Acton, where she was teaching. Meetings were held fortnightly at Mrs Ashton’s house on 26 Buxton Gardens but on 22 March 1911 there was a census boycott meeting at Priory Schools with Edith How-Martyn and Mr JY Kennedy speaking.[iv] Was Helena at this meeting?
In The Vote for 4 March 1911, Edith How-Martyn answered a list of census queries. The first question was about how householders could avoid the £5 government fine for resisting the census. Three options were given: not pay the fine and go to prison; let your house to a friend for the weekend and get them to pay the fine or go to prison; lock up your house and attach a notice on the door, ‘No votes for women, no census’, and leave before Sunday 2 April and not return home until Monday evening or even Tuesday. With the house not being occupied, no return could be made. There is a census return for Helena in 1901 but not for 1911. Was she an evader?
The ‘Census Resisted’ badge has ‘Census Resisted, No Vote, No Census’ around the edge and the text ‘A census of Great Britain shall be taken in the year 1911 and the census day shall be Sunday the 2 of April in that year.’ It was created by Merchants’ Portrait Company, who made other WFL badges and put adverts in The Vote. Maybe Helena just bought a badge to give money to the cause and did not take part in the census boycott.
Helena’s archive and the records of the Women’s Freedom League can be consulted at the Women’s Library at LSE. For more information about the suffrage collection see: http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/collection-highlights/womens-suffrage. The Vote and other suffrage material can be viewed on LSE’s digital library: https://digital.library.lse.ac.uk/
Mapping Women’s Suffrage would love to put Helena Normanton on our map. Can you help? Do you know where she was regularly living in 1911 – at, or as close to, the time of the census survey in April that year as possible? If so, do get in touch with us.
About the Author
Dr Gillian Murphy is the Curator for Equality, Rights and Citizenship at LSE Library. She moved to LSE with the Women’s Library in 2013, where she had worked as an archivist for many years. Gillian promotes the Women’s Library collection and the Hall-Carpenter Archives through exhibitions, talks, blogs and workshops.
[i] Judith Bourne, Helena Normanton and the Opening of the Bar to Women, p. 39 [ii] Bourne, Helena Normanton, p. 32. [iii] Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement, p. 642. [iv] The Vote, 1 April 1911. [v] The Vote, 2 April 1915 p. 556. [vi] The Vote, 20 July 1915. [vii] The Women’s Library at LSE, 2WFL/1/18.